Gender & Identity, Life

Life in Islamabad was all that I had known – when I moved, I was lost

When I got married I moved to London. That's where everything changed.

I was born and bred in Islamabad, a capital city that redefines the meaning of a small town. In Islamabad, you can drive from one part of town to the other within 30 minutes; and if you happen to meet someone you didn’t know, you would find a common friend within five minutes of conversation. Frankly, life in Islamabad was all that I had known. It was home; my family, lifelong friends and the near-empty roads with avenues of trees that led to the picturesque Margalla hills had filled my heart.

So, back in 2014, when I married the man of my dreams and the prospect of moving away became all too real, I wasn’t the tiny bit fazed. Moving continents didn’t seem to bother me at all; in fact, I was more concerned with the wedding festivities, then my visa and lastly packing than I was with leaving my loved ones and my beloved city behind. In retrospect, I must commend my brain for its coping mechanism. Instead of panicking about starting a new life in a new city with new faces, it made sure I was too engulfed in the trivialities of everyday life.

And so, I moved to jolly old London with its grey skies, never-ending roads, and horrible traffic. Did the enormity of my decision hit me then? No. Instead of coming to terms with the biggest change of my bubbled life, I was more concerned with learning the ropes around the Tube networks and figuring out the quickest way to Oxford Street from any given location. But even after settling in, figuring out my bearings and landing a nice job in the city, whenever I spoke of Islamabad I referred to it as ‘home.’ It was unconsciously done but even after re-establishing my life in London, Islamabad was still home.

My brain was still on overdrive with its coping mechanism. I was superbly busy with life and six months into it, it hadn’t even begun to sink in that I was living not in my small hometown surrounded by family and friends but in a metropolis where the only person I knew and could count on was my husband. However, it was not long after that when the cracks began to surface. Slowly, I came to realize that whenever I spoke of ‘home’ I meant Islamabad, whenever I thought of friends I meant the ones I had left behind and moreover whenever I thought of being truly myself it was only in relation to or somehow associated with the life I had left behind. Soon after it became apparent that even though I might have ‘fit in’ into my new surroundings with ease, I was never giving it my all. Instead of putting efforts into making London ‘home’ I just carried on with the flow. I wasn’t investing in forming new relationships because I thought the ones I left behind were enough. I was stuck in limbo.

It is very unpleasant when the thing you have been unconsciously avoiding for little over a year becomes all too apparent. It was one fateful night where my brain finally gave up and I broke down. It wasn’t pretty nor was it dignified. It was a scary thought that I, an introvert by nature, had to make new friends. Not just friends/acquaintances but forge lifelong relationships; the ones you can count on through thick or thin. I had to make London ‘home’ and I had no idea how to begin.

Well, first things first. I began treating my apartment with more love. I began making it a sanctuary as opposed to a place to crash. Then I began to actually pay attention to the people I met and slowly started to be more myself around the ones I thought had potential to become good friends. It was a very carefully laid out plan but one that took a long time to be implemented.

Fast forward to a year later, we were in Islamabad on our bi-annual trip back ‘home’ and driving down Qaid-e-Azam avenue I looked around. I saw my beloved Margalla hills in the distance and the same buildings. Not much had changed but at the same time, nothing felt the same. I had an unidentifiable itch and a thought that frankly gave me anxiety. Islamabad didn’t feel like home but if this wasn’t home then what was?

Home is where you want it to be. It took me three years, a panic attack and a breakdown to come to this simple realization. Human beings were meant to be nomads, wandering the earth in search of food or shelter. It is only with the advancement of society that we began staying in the same place for our entire lives.

Islamabad will always have a very special place in my heart. But if it weren’t for my parents, I would not feel the urge to go back. Now, I can, with complete certainty, hand on heart, say London is starting to feel more like ‘home.’ It wasn’t easy, and it definitely wasn’t pretty, but I have finally come to terms with my reality.